Crossing the River Update

I have gotten some absolutely amazing submissions to the devotional I’m working on for the Beloved Dead.  However, I hope to get some more!  There just aren’t enough yet to publish a robust anthology.  I believe we can get there.

Therefore I’m extending the deadline until September 28th, 2015.

I have more information available here for those interested in submitting.

If you email me in the next few weeks, I may take a very long time to reply, but I will get to it.  I’m currently in the middle of a jaw and tooth infection that has landed me in both the ER and urgent care this week along with the dentist.  I’m on my 2nd round of stronger antibiotics as the 1st didn’t do much good despite the IV administration of a second type.  Because of this I’m on heavy duty pain pills, while having learned that morphine apparently does nothing for me.  I’m dealing with high blood pressure and tachycardia attacks triggered by the stress and pain.  Meanwhile it will be 2 weeks until I have surgery, and I’m terrified that I will be one of the people with Ehlers-Danlos who feels and hears everything but can’t tell the doctor due to anesthesia; Novocaine, Lidocaine, and epidurals decidedly don’t work for me.  I’m having 6 teeth removed, because I have 2 wisdom teeth, a baby tooth, and 3 teeth that have fallen apart due to my faulty collagen.  At this point, we fortunately have the costs covered, which I’m thankful for, so at least there’s that.  If I’m quiet, though, you know why.

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Feralia and the Unclaimed Dead

ancient-21569_640Historically the month of February for a Roman had an overarching theme of purification and setting things right with the Lares (our Ancestors and Heroes) and the Manes (our Dead)1. Interestingly, this habit of feeding the Dead did not stop with Roman Polytheists at the time, but it was also a custom of early Christians. This custom has continued to be carried out into modern times, and we see its Christian heir in the varying traditions held in All Saints’ and All Souls Day. In fact, some scholars point to All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day being a modern survival of February’s Parentalia.

The Parentalia was a 9-day festival that was mainly celebrated in private, attending to your family’s unique Lares and Manes. It begins on the 13th of February. In my home, we also spend the 9-days of Parentalia sacrificing to the Lares and Manes with offerings of flowers, wine, salt, corn2, and cake. I’ve written more about how my family observes Parentalia, and Helio at Golden Trail also offers how he is observing Parentalia this year.

It’s the final day of Parentalia that I wanted to talk about, though. It was important enough to the Romans that it had its own name: The Feralia.

The Feralia was a public sacrifice for the Manes held at midnight on February 21st, the final day of the Parentalia. We have no surviving description of what the public rites entail, though if we take Ovid’s account in his poem, Fasti, it likely had magical undertones that one did not find in many Roman festivals. Ovid also speaks of the Dead being appeased by offerings of floral wreaths, a little grain, a little salt, bread soaked in wine, and violets, though other offerings are permitted. These were to be taken to the family’s tombs outside of the city, and they picnicked with their Dead.

Ovid tells the tale of a year when the Romans were so busy with fighting war that they neglected the Feralia. The Manes raised from their tombs and took to the street. They angrily howled and roamed until the living paid tribute.

I am still trying to build meaningful traditions for my family within regionally-sound cultus, and Feralia is one of the festivals that I find overlaps in other times of the year within my extended family’s traditions. When I think of Feralia, though, my mind keeps coming back to Ovid’s story of the roaming, forgotten Dead.

While I will privately honor my own Manes with a modest sacrifice of black beans, cracked corn, wine, and flowers, my mind continues to move back to a way to honor the Unclaimed Dead and those who have never been found. In November, I read an article from the L.A. Times about the large number of Unclaimed Dead that exist, and months later it still haunts me. I realized upon reading it that if in a large city like LA an average of 6 people a day go unclaimed, this means nationally the numbers of those unclaimed are likely huge. Or at least large enough that it would hurt my heart to try to calculate. Babies. People who were homeless. People whose relatives were unable to afford getting the bodies brought home. People who have no family.

As a Roman Revivalist, I seek to adapt historical Roman Polytheism to my modern life, which means that I am comfortable moving away from Reconstructionism when it is needed or simply the Gods wish it. In the case of the Feralia, I have taken the line from Ovid’s Fasti, as translated by Betty Nogle, which states, “They called this day Feralia because they do what’s fair.”

In other words, they brought what was due to the Manes, the Dead.

One of the things that drew me to Roman Polytheism so many years ago was the concept of public virtues as laid out by Nova Roma. These are virtues are those of a healthy, whole society. One of these virtues is Pietas, piety or dutifulness, which Rome claimed was their reason for success. When I speak of piety, I do not just speak of what we owe the Gods in a natural contract between humans and Powers. I speak of respect of our duty to our fellow humans, our communities and society at large.

In the United States especially we have turned away from this virtue on the very basic level of societal contract when we allow our fellow humans to starve and freeze to death on the streets. We shame those who find themselves in need of public assistance, ignoring that one of the icons of our country, the Statue of Liberty, the personification of what we believe to be an inalienable right, has a poem by Emma Lazarus that many of us can quote the end of:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

To me being a citizen of the United States means that every other person living in my country is, in a way, extended family. We are part of the same tribe, so to speak. When people are unable to provide for themselves, it is our duty to care for them, because we reasonably have enough as a collective body that no person should go without the basic needs of the living. We forget this. We attempt to quantify and qualify who deserves more or less based on their ability or circumstances in life. When we do this, we fall victim to hubris and the feeling that we are somehow superior to those of our extended, civil family in every way, shape, and form. We ignore that we are connected.

And if we are all connected, if we are all in this together, then it is the duty of those who believe in the Ancestors and Dead to care for them as well. The nameless, faceless Dead, forgotten and ignored by our society at large, are our family. They’re our brothers, sisters, and everything in between. Some of them we have failed while they were living. Some of them came into this world and out again in the blink of an eye. Some simply were not able to make their journey home to their final resting place.

But they shouldn’t be forgotten.

We Pagans and Polytheists have a chance to set these moments right. Those who believe that we still have a relationship with the Dead are able to reach out to them and let them know that They are not forgotten. That we honor Them. That we give Them what They are due as members of our extended family and tribe.

I invite you to observe the Feralia in honor of those Unclaimed Dead on February 22nd. As a larger community, let’s take a moment out of our year to give to those who may be lost and wandering still. When the sun goes down, let’s all take a moment to step outside and leave modest offerings to those so many forget. If you are able, consider joining me during the 9 days of Parentalia in performing an Ancestor Elevation for the Unclaimed Dead, along with your own personal Ancestors. For those unfamiliar with the ritual, Galina Krasskova has written a beautiful ritual that could easily be adapted to the purpose or done as is.

Even if on this day you’re only able to offer a moment of thought or prayer, please do so. Let us not turn our head away from the Dead, lest the Dead take to the streets demanding Their due.

Let us do what is right.

  1. It’s important to note that within the history of the Roman Religion that Lares and Manes are sometimes used interchangeably or in contradictory manners from source to source. For ease of establishing a basis for learning, when I speak of the Lares I am speaking of both historical and modern Heroes along with Ancestors I have not met in my lifetime. When I speak of the Manes, I speak of the recently deceased first but also the group I refer to as the Beloved Dead, or those for which we have recent familial ties such as deceased grandparents, parents, and siblings. The Manes also includes those who were unable to be buried with appropriate final rites, no longer have people attending their graves, and those who were never buried at all. This may not be the classification the next Roman Polytheist you meet agrees with, but for the sake of clarity in my own tradition and writing, this is mine.
  1. The traditional offering is wheat. We have a wheat and gluten-free household, and so we offer corn masa instead, which not only fits regionally as our most common grain crop but also speaks to my Ancestrial cultus having come from generations of corn farmers.

The Neighbors

The elderly couple who lived on the other side of our duplex died… The wife first after a terrible fight with cancer, I knew the last time the ambulance left she wasn’t going to be back.  A month later her husband simply got sick and gave up. I never sat with either of them while they were dying. They were private people even in death.  No burial.  No service.  Before they died, they made a final trip to Myrtle Beach with their family instead.

It’s been a bit of a surreal experience, to say the least. Even more so, they’ve both been here to visit since passing. The husband more than the wife. He says he’s hanging around to make sure they get his home cleaned out and rented to someone who won’t make our lives chaotic.  I don’t rush him.  I feel thankful he is willing to watch out for us.  I catch him sitting on the front step, smoking cigarettes. I say “Hey, George!” and then remember he’s not alive anymore. He comes in dreams to tell me stories that he wanted to be sure someone heard.  We laugh about the deer coming through our back yard just as if he were alive…  Me thinking they look beautiful; him thinking they look delicious.

This is my life. I guess it’s always been my life to a certain extent, but it’s become more pronounced in recent years. I no longer can ignore the Dead. They don’t allow for it.

Truth be told, I’m not sure I would really have it any other way.

At L.A. County cemetery, unclaimed dead await a final resting place – LA Times

It’s not very often that I simply put up an article on my blog, but I am still sitting here with a bit of shock about me on this one.  I mentioned elsewhere that my hope is by next year to start a foundation for those in our religious community to help cover funerals and final rites for our people…

This may not seem like a terribly important thing to everyone, but to me this is a silent epidemic in our American society.  It’s something I don’t want to see happen to our people.

I felt like I should share.

At L.A. County cemetery, unclaimed dead await a final resting place – LA Times.

Deathwork Training Update

Slowly but surely, I am getting further along in my death midwife and home funeral certification.  However, my health is still incredibly unstable, and I’m finding myself at an average of 3 doctor appointments a week.  I’m seeing 8 specialists in various disciplines along with a cognitive-behavioral therapist, because who wouldn’t need a therapist when suddenly medical care has become a full-time job?  Yesterday I got the news that brain surgery to place a shunt in was onthe table if medication didn’t keep my symptoms stable.  And that, if I don’t go into remission, I may end up with a shunt anyway. Meanwhile, despite every doctor I’ve seen telling me what a good attitude I have about the fact I have 2 rare diseases and basically the body of a 60-year-old in my 30s,  along with my therapist saying she wished I could go to her group sessions in order to be an example of managing things in a healthy manner, I keep getting told to remain hopeful and positive I will get better by others.  One of my diseases is progressive and will actually get worse as I age.  The brain disease, idiopathic intracranial hypertension or pseudotumor cerebri, has no medication, no treatment, and very little research done specifically for it.  The word idiopathic means they have no idea why my brain is producing too much spinal fluid.  I am pretty resigned to dealing with this my entire life; it’s a better place to be really surprised and happy when things get radically better than to expect the best and have none of it go that way.  When you are 1 in 100,000 people to get a rare disease with no cure, it really is best to go with realistic but willing to do whatever it takes than to be seriously depressed and angry with the universe when suddenly you find yourself headed towards the option of debilitating pain and blindness or brain surgery that doesn’t always fix a problem.  I smile.  I laugh.  I do my best to find fulfilling things to replace my old passions I can no longer do (large-scale gardening, for instance).

I get into this here, because a lot of people donated to me and in turn allowing me to do this training.  None of this current brain-related health issue was in my life when I signed up for the educational program I’m taking, and I’m still dreadfully behind on things promised as rewards for those who donated generously to my education because of it.  There’s a lot of guilt there, because I hate not being able to carry through with it at this point.  I feel like those who donated should be made aware of where I am with all of it…  Which is not as far as I hoped to be.

However, I am pushing through with what I am capable of doing…  Reading, writing, taking the class modules I have to get through, and researching.

After NaNoWriMo in November, I will be setting out to really dig into writing a book on postmortem and funeral rites for the Polytheist community.  I plan on trying to give a summary of historical practices in various civilizations, covering body care and resources for those wishing to embark on a complete home funeral, helping the reader create a funeral that meets both their religious and secular needs inside or outside of a larger community…  Along with an idea for inter-faith help within our local communities and resources for legal questions or further help outside of a religious community.

I am hoping to have it fully ready for publication by the end of next year, though depending on how things go in my own life that’s really a pretty ambitious deadline.  It’s where I am right now.

Looking For Death-Related Prayers and Poems. Help?

I’m currently putting together a guidebook for my work as a death midwife, and eventually I would like to be able to offer the non-copyrighted work to others wishing to get into death work in the Polytheist and Pagan community.

I would really, really love to have a collection of prayers, meditations, and beautifully written words to span various traditions and religions.  I would love to have both historical pieces and modern.

Eventually, I’m considering putting together an anthology of modern work on the subject, but if I take on one more project right now I’ll probably drop everything I’m carefully balancing.  However, if you submit something to me now, I would like to know if when I get to the point of putting something together for the community if you’d like to be included.

And in this vein, I’m also looking for soothing pieces.  Pieces to help people transition to their next journey.  Gentle things.

But also prayers for the deceased once they have ceased to be fully in our world.

So can you help me?  Even just links to your favorite hymns?  And would you kindly pass this message on to those who may be able to help?

Thank you!

Embracing a Calling: Death Midwifery

In my early 20s, I received that profound moment that others describe where they receive their calling towards ministry – The calling where you find yourself suddenly at complete peace and going “Yes, I can do this. I can help people with their spiritual lives.” I had originally planned to become an Unitarian Universalist minister, but truth be told the thought of being in school for another 8 years of my life and going into extreme life-long debt only to be saddled down with society politics (because I’ve seen congregations explode in my time and out a minister at the turn of a hat) seemed to kind of a dead end to me.

Then I was told to go into agriculture. This is still on my list of things to do. The problem is that we’ve discovered that I am photosensitive. I have many of the symptoms of lupus, but we’re still searching for answers to if it really is lupus or something else. With that, I’m not sure exactly how large-scale I’m going to be able to work on a farm. Not that I wanted to have a huge farm, but I want to cultivate more than food for just my family – This is another topic altogether, so I won’t go into details right now.

With coming to terms with the fact that my plans are, at the very best, up in the air, the thought of ministry that I’ve been avoiding came back into play. Being a chaplain. This isn’t the first time the thought of being a chaplain to prisoners or in a hospice has entered my brain. It was where I left off when I decided I didn’t want to go back to college. I still don’t want to go back to what will end up being 8 years of college for me where I have to take a bunch of classes not directly related to what I want to do with my life.

I started looking at where I really wanted to be when it came to my role as a spiritual support role in our community. I found myself going back over and over again to those who our society turns a blind eye to quite often – The Dying.

Hekate started discussing her role as Torchbearer to me. I sank quietly into the Eleusinian Myth from a different perspective, and that was the role of Hekate – Bringing the mourning and tired mother into the underworld to find her daughter. Such a modest mention in the grander story, but one of the most important roles within the myth.

I started pondering becoming a death midwife/doula and home funeral assistant. I had no real concept that others were doing this work already. I had no clue at the time that there was literature and training available out there for death work. Slowly links and discussions started trickling in on me. Eventually I found a certifying program online that I felt was a good match for me along with a few classes.

I started talking to others about how I was considering walking into this line of work. Most of the conversations I’ve had have been incredibly positive and encouraging.

Then a friend from high school died last week. She didn’t die suddenly. I have watched her slowly die over a two year period on Facebook. She had gone through radiation and chemo for a brain tumor while pregnant. I cried when she had a severe allergic reaction to the chemo drugs and had to stop taking treatment. I cheered when her son was born healthy. We discussed head scarves in that time as her hair started to fall out. I prayed for her. I watched her come into faith with her God and find peace; she was truly graceful in a way I’ve never seen another human being. We were not close despite all of this. Yet something about her passing changed me in a profound way, watching the process from even an impersonal position 2 states away caused me to consider how we as a society view death and what that means to not only the Pagan/Polytheist community but those who feel the need for a different approach to death… Something warmer, kinder, and gentler for those crossing and those left behind.

I have full plans to offer my services on a sliding scale or at no cost to those in need, save for supplies that might need to be bought. Despite the Affordable Care Act, I fear that people dealing with large hospital and healthcare bills still exist, and while I would like to be compensated for this work I also feel it’s imperative that every person be given the dignity they deserve in the final days.

So here I am, putting out the word today that I’m going to attempt doing this. This is part of my Work. This is a piece of the puzzle of how I’m meant to serve our community. It’s not something I would have ever thought I’d find myself doing, but I also didn’t see myself going into farming either. Now I can’t imagine myself not having land to work with one day.

With all of this said, I’m asking for help with this. I could go into the long story about why I’m trying to raise the $700 it takes to get myself trained to a point where I’d feel comfortable starting to work, but the fact is that as much as I’d like to be able to pay for this out of my own pocket I’m unable to do that.

I’ve started a GoFundMe fundraiser in hopes of even getting the smallest amount raised to help me in this journey. I’m offering various levels of rewards from prints to custom art to prayer beads made of stone with hand-fabricated sterling silver filigree made by me. Even the smallest of donations will help me out. If you’re unable to donate, please consider sharing the link to get my story out there.

Thank you so much.